It's never too soon for gardeners to start thinking ahead. Even now, their thoughts should turn to next spring--what to plan and what to plant.
If you are among them it's time now to get your yard ready for the future--and to perk up your late-summer flower patch with a few quick fixes. With the following Ladies' Home Journal magazine's step-by-step guide, you should reap the rewards of a lush lawn and fabulous flowers come April:
* Patch repair. Before thinking about next year's garden, take a look at your summer blossoms. You're probably growing both annuals, such as marigolds and zinnias, which bloom all season but must be planted every year, and perennials, such as black-eyed susans or primroses, which flower year after year but blossom for only a short time.
If your annuals are drooping in the heat, "pinch them back, water them, give them a good dose of fertilizer, and they'll perk up and flower till frost," says Terry Hulmfeld, executive director of the Professional Plant Growers Assn., in Lansing, Mich. To encourage perennials to produce more buds, snip off the dead blossoms with a garden clipper.
* For an extremely fast perk-up, clip the grass around your flower beds, put fresh mulch around plants and water thoroughly. You'll be amazed at the difference this makes. If your flowers are beyond help, buy some new plants. One good choice: Vinca (catharanthus), an annual with delicate white, pink or lavender blossoms, thrives in heat and humidity.
* Take stock. Now is the time to take a walk around your yard and make notes for next year. Which flowers did well? Which didn't? What colors looked great together? What looked awful? Write it all down so you don't forget in the spring.
Consider, too, how much time and maintenance your garden needed. For instance, were you constantly watering your plants because they couldn't take the heat? Work with nature next year by choosing drought-tolerant plants, such as marigolds, hollyhocks, zinnias and African daisies.
* Plan ahead. Planning not only gives you a more successful garden, it saves you money. Decide now what you want to buy next spring so you can resist costly impulse purchases later. How do you choose what to plant? Check out what your neighbors have, browse at the local garden center or visit a botanical garden.
Also, select plants that bloom at different times of the season.
Some suggestions for spring: columbines, foxgloves and peonies. For early summer, anemones, Shasta daisies and calendulas (pot marigolds).
For late summer and fall, try hostas, dahlias, or, for something different, ornamental grasses, which have attractive flower plumes or seed heads. Bonus: The foliage, often a deep crimson or gold, keeps its color into the winter.
* Plant now, enjoy later. Autumn is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, tulips and scilla. To plant, choose a site that receives full or partial sun, with soil that drains well. Dig a hole to the recommended depth for each bulb--or buy an easy-to-use bulb planter, available at garden centers. Pour a spoonful of bone meal into each hole and put the bulbs in place with pointed ends up. Press gently into the earth, cover with soil and water.
For the most impact, always plant bulbs in groups or clusters. And choose flower colors that complement each other to avoid a haphazard or unsightly look when they bloom.
* Spruce up your lawn. If you live in the northern half of the country, this is the season to fertilize your grass. Fall fertilization promotes root growth, which makes grass stronger and less prone to drought and disease. Slow-release brands of fertilizer are best because they provide a steady stream of nutrients.
If your turf is looking sparse, reseed the bare patches. Ask at your garden center for one of the new disease- and weed-resistant varieties of grass.
To seed a patch of lawn: scratch the soil with a rake, drop seeds in the grooves and water daily until the grass germinates.